College students have access to numerous mental health services

Monday, August 29, 2011 | 12:30 p.m. CDT

You just found out the hard way your new roommate sleeps in the nude.

You try desperately to erase the image burned into your retinas, but it’s become difficult to focus on homework because of the ugly picture. You have a few options:

Campus Services

MU Counseling Center
119 Parker Hall (near Jesse Hall and Peace Park)
See map
573-882-6601 for appointments or inquiries

MU Student Health Center
1101 Hospital Drive (near hospital complex)
See map
573-882-1483 for appointments or inquiries

  • Deal with it to the best of your abilities.
  • Ask your resident assistant to help you out.
  • Get professional help.

Columbia has many mental health services, and MU students have access to even more than the general public. Because every student pays a student activity fee, services at the MU Counseling Center cost nothing additional, said Christy Hutton, outreach and communications coordinator for the center.

The MU Counseling Center will have 12 full-time, permanent staff members available in the fall to undergraduate, master and doctoral students.

Hutton said the MU Student Health Center also offers mental health services, and many professionals with no university affiliation are available in the immediate area.

One of these people, Mike Mayer, has run a psychology practice in Columbia for 25 years. Mayer said Columbia is a town that is generally accepting of reaching out for personal help.

If a problem begins interfering with functioning, then getting professional help is about taking charge, Mayer said.

“The process of seeking help and being willing to get help for issues bothering you is a sign of taking responsibility for making yourself a better person,” he said.

More than 100 professional counselors are registered to practice in Boone County, according to the Missouri Division of Professional Registration.

Maria Gutierrez also runs a psychology practice in Columbia. She said there are a range of benefits to counseling, especially for college students.

Counselors are objective individuals – not parents, not friends – that can ease the transition to college life, Gutierrez said. She said counseling can also help manage new stresses. Students are flooded with new expectations related to money, classes, deadlines and relationships. Counseling can also help a student develop better coping skills and avoid tactics like using alcohol and cutting or dropping classes, she said.

Confidentiality is a code for counselors, Gutierrez said. It takes written permission by the student to share any information with others, even if parents call to set up an appointment, with the legal exception of planned harm to self or others, she said.

Most counselors accept insurance just like any other specialist — same as dermatologists, podiatrists or physical therapists, Gutierrez said. This often means a $15 to $30 co-pay depending on insurance coverage, she said.

Linda Johnson is a counselor for Boone Hospital Center’s Cognitive Behavioral Treatment Program and runs a private practice in Columbia. Johnson said she doesn’t deal with insurance companies at all, so many of the people she sees simply pay by credit card or directly out of pocket. Without using insurance, sessions generally cost about $90 each, she said.

Mayer said a student can take the first step by asking a friend, looking in the phone book or visiting a websitesuch as, where mental health professionals can pay to be listed. lists 28 counselors with varying levels of education and experience in the Columbia area. The list can be sorted by price, specialty, accepted insurance, treatment philosophy, religion, language and more. The site provides full contact information and a brief description.

Mental health professionals is a blanket term that can refer to psychologists, psychiatrists, licensed professional counselors and licensed clinical social workers, Mayer said. Psychologists have doctoral degrees; because psychiatrists have medical degrees, they are able to prescribe medications. Licensed professional counselors and licensed clinical social workers need master's degrees and are often referred to as counselors. All must be licensed with the state they practice in, he said.

The system might seem confusing, but health workers at MU work together to help students, whether that means referring within MU or off-campus, said MU Student Health Center spokesperson Pam Roe.

“It doesn’t matter where you enter the health system,” Roe said. “We’ll get you where you need to be.”

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